Kota Kinabalu Destination Guide
The old name of Kota Kinabalu was Jesselton. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo, and also the capital of the West Coast Division of Sabah.
The city sprawls along the northwest coast of the island of Borneo and also extends into the interior.
This Kota Kinabalu Destination Guide and our Kota Kinabalu tour page tell you all you need to know about the highlights and must-see's of a trip to this popular city. If you are looking for more general information regarding Malaysia please refer to our Malaysia Country Guide.
Things to See and Do in Kota Kinabalu
Around Kota Kinabalu is the South China Sea, and bordering it on one side is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, while in the background looms Mount Kinabalu. Kota Kinabalu is the largest urban centre in Sabah, and Malaysia's sixth largest, with 70,000 people inhabiting the urban areas, and about 532,129 in the city.
The people of Malaysia usually refer to Kota Kinabalu as KK, and the world knows the city as a tourist destination. The city is the main point of entry into Sabah and Borneo. The Kinabalu National Park is approximately 90 km from the city, and there are various tourist attractions in Kota Kinabalu. The fact that it is a tourist destination and one of east Malaysia's most important industrial and commercial centres make the city one of the most rapidly growing cities of Malaysia.
Kota Kinabalu derives its name from Mount Kinabalu which lies in the northeast section of the city. No one is quite sure about the meaning and origin of the term 'Kinabalu', but according to one theory, the name translates into 'Chinese widow'. In the Kadazandusun language, 'Kina' means ‘Chinese' (person), and in Malay, 'balu' means ‘widow'. The origin of the city's name lies in a folk tale about a Chinese prince who went to the mountain on a quest for a giant pearl which was guarded by a dragon. During his stay on the mountain, he married a local woman, but broke her heart when he eventually left her to return to China.
Follow the links to the right or scroll further down the page for details on some of the many interesting tourist attractions in Kota Kinabalu:
Located in the busy city of Kota Kinabalu, this is one of Kota Kinabalu's first shopping malls. Get what you want from stationaries, and even a food court, with 10 different stalls offering diffrent cuisines. There is also some work offices here.
Centre Point Sabah is situated in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the State of Sabah in Malaysia. This mammoth development was undertaken by Sunyap Development Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned local company of Pacific Construction Co Ltd, Taiwan, in joint venture with the Municipal Council of Kota Kinabalu.
There are 387 other shops, 1380 car park bays on 6 levels, 2 floors of office space, a city parade and entertainment areas. In addition, Palm Square, is an up-market retail establishment for branded goods and CPS Tower, an ultra-modern office block with a 80 ft. atrium, with some of the Best Hotels in Kota Kinabalu close by.
1Borneo is a mixed development project strategically located on 23.3 acres of prime land along Jalan Sulaman Highway, adjacent to University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) with close proximity to the state and federal administrative centres as well as mega townships and housing estates.
Located within Kota Kinabalu, 7km north along the Jalan Sulaman Highway surrounded by lush greenery overlooking the majestic Mount Kinabalu and the Crocker Range, 1Borneo is set to be the ultimate shopping experience for locals and foreign tourists alike.
The largest component of the project is the shopping podium with a gross area of 1.5m2. The 4.8m2 of the overall integrated component consists of four international and regional chain hotels, condominiums, auto city, Oceanarium & Discovery Centre, handicraft and cultural centre, spa and fitness centre, amusement centre, bowling centre, cineplex, and gourmet Llane.
Kota Kinabalu is quite rich with cultural venues, of which a big attraction is the main museum of Sabah, the Sabah State Museum. The museum is near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and around it are various cultural venues such as the Sabah Art Gallery, the Science and Technology Centre and the Ethno Botanic Garden. In the centre of the city, you'll find the Wisma Budaya Art Gallery, which holds regional and national art exhibitions. The Kadazan-Dusun Cultural Organisation (KDCA).is housed in the Hongkod Koisaan building in Penampang. The KDCA hosts the annual 'Kaamatan' (Harvest Festival) every March, as well as the Unduk Ngadau Beauty Contest which runs at the same time. For a taste of Kadazan-Dusun culture, take in one of the cultural shows hosted by the Monsopiad Cultural Village (Kampung Monsopiad). The village is named after Monsopiad, the legendary Kadazan-Dusun warrior who was a head hunter.
Sabah was declared independent at a place in the city known as the Padang Merdeka or Town Padang (field). It was here that Malaysia had its beginnings. This momentous declaration of independence was made by Tun Fuad Stephens, Sabah's first Chief Minister, on September 16, 1963, and the date is referred to as Malaysia Day. Today this occasion is celebrated on this site every year as the City Day, on February 2. Among the many celebrations held here is Merdeka Day on August 31.
The Atkinson Clock Tower built by Mary Edith Atkinson, in tribute to her son Francis George Atkinson, in 1905 is near Bandaran Berjaya. At one time, ships used the tower as a navigation aid, but later the tower was masked by taller buildings and could no longer be used by ships. However, the tower is among the only three buildings that survived World War II. The Petagas War Memorial is a tribute to the soldiers who died fighting the Japanese forces during this war. It stands on the very spot that saw the 1944 massacre of the Kinabalu Guerrillas by the Japanese army.
The Double Six Monument in Sembulan marks the site where the Chief Minister Tun Fuad Stephens, and other leaders, lost their lives in a plane crash on June 6, 1976. The event was referred to as the Double Six Tragedy.
Around Kota Kinabalu, you can find many places to relax in, and there are places here that have been declared as conservation territory. Anjung Samudra (KK Waterfront) in the centre of the city has cafes, pubs, restaurants, and a nightclub. If you are into horse racing, you can catch the races every week at the Royal Sabah Turf Club in Tanjung Aru. You can tour the scenic countryside of the interior and the west coast via the North Borneo Railway. Your journey will begin at the Tanjung Aru station.
Tanjung Aru is around 6 km from the city centre. The beach in Tanjung Aru is over 2 km long, and is dotted with restaurants, food and drink stalls, and nightclubs. This is a definite Kota Kinabalu highlight
The tourism industry in Sabah proudly describes the state as possessing "Eco-treasures from mountain high to ocean deep". The lush tropical rain forests here are among the oldest in the world and key to balancing the ecosystem. You can also see such amazing animals as orangutan, proboscis monkeys, and pygmy elephants.
You can explore the rainforest on a jungle trek, or just take one of the walking trails. You'll find several such trails in the rainforest of Gaya Island. On this island you can walk through mangrove swamps and lowland rainforest, and see indigenous flora and fauna, as well as medicinal plants.
The Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary is close to Likas Bay in the north of the city. The sanctuary covers 59 acres, and protects the only existing remnants of the mangrove forests that once covered the coastline of Kota Kinabalu.
The Sabah Zoological and Botanical Park in Lok Kawi is around 20 km south of the city, and was Sabah's first zoo and the largest in Malaysia.
Like the locals, you could go jogging or hiking in the Tun Fuad Stephens Park in Bukit Padang. The park is surrounded by verdant forest and has an artificial lake, as well as restaurants and food stalls. Or go snorkelling in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. This is a national park made up of the islands of Mamutik, Sapi, Sulug, Manukan, and Gaya. The park is just 15 to 30 minutes by boat from the city ferry terminal.
You could go for a picnic or a swim in the Babagon River in Penampang, and the Kiansom Falls near Inanam.
Another fine place for a jungle trek or camping is the Crocker Range National Park near Keningau, about 70 km from the city. Within the park's borders is the Rafflesia Forest Reserve near Tambunan, 30 km from Kota Kinabalu. The park is named after its famous Rafflessia flowers, which enjoy the distinction of being the largest in the world. Near this park is the Gunung Emas Highland Resort with its beautiful scenery and cool climate.
The largest crocodile farm in Sabah is the Tuaran Crocodile Farm with its 1000 crocodiles. The farm is situated approximately 30 km north of Kota Kinabalu.
The highest peak of Mount Kinabalu (the tallest mountain in Borneo) is called Low's Peak, and rises to a height of 4.095 m. Low's Peak is the third highest in South East Asia. Low's Peak is easy to climb, whether you are an expert mountaineer or an amateur. You don't need any mountaineering equipment. All you need is basic fitness. However, should you want to scale the other peaks of Mount Kinabalu, you'll need rock climbing skills, and equipment is a must. Whatever your skill level, try and get to the summit of this mountain just to see the splendour of Sabah spread out below you.
Mount Kinabalu and its environs are famous across the world for their botanical riches, and the biodiversity of biological species, many of which are not found anywhere else. For instance, the mountain has over 800 species of orchid, and more than 600 types of fern, of which 50 are indigenous to this area.
The seas around Kota Kinabalu and Sabah are perhaps the finest diving destinations in the world. Whether you are an amateur diver, or an experienced scuba diver, the warm tropical waters around Sabah are ideal for you. Even snorkelling is wonderful here because the wealth and beauty of the underwater world has been zealously guarded and preserved by the government.
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park in the South China Sea just off Kota Kinabalu has five fantastic islands that offer great diving experiences. These are Pulau Sapi, Pulua Gaya, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, and Pulau Sulug.
Off the east coast of Sabah are several other great diving destinations. The internationally renowned diver Jacques Costeau had this to say about the east coast - 'an untouched piece of art...a pearl'.
There are many other places of interest in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia Borneo. On the coast, you can see houses standing on stilts in the shallow water in the villages of Tanjung Aru, Kampung Pondo, Sembulan,and Kampung Likas, in Pulau Gayat. These are the typical homes of the Bajau and Suluk people.
Real gold plates stud the dome of the State Mosque in Sembulan, the biggest mosque in Sabah. Another significant mosque is the City Mosque in Likas Bay.
From the Signal Hill Observatory near the CBD, you can get a panoramic view of the islands, the city centre, and the sea.
About 10 minutes from the city centre is the famous 30-storey Tun Mustapha Tower (formerly Sabah Foundation Building). This stunning glass structure is one of the four buildings in the world supported by high tensile steel rods, and has a revolving restaurant.